DeKALB – Shelley Binegar made an assertion that was perfectly logical when she stood in front of a few hundred Northern Illinois fans and boosters at the NIU Football Kickoff Event on Saturday, but the uncertainty in the response was palpable.
“Five home games this year, a little bit different for us,” the associate athletics director said. “In my opinion, no reason why we're not selling out five games this year at Huskie Stadium.”
“Guys?” Binegar said, coaxing scattered but unenthusiastic applause from the crowd at the Convocation Center.
If only attendance directly correlated with on-field success.
The Huskies averaged less than 16,000 fans last season in six games at the 24,000-seat Huskie Stadium during their run to the Orange Bowl.
In reality, the push to increase attendance isn't necessarily up to the die-hards in attendance at Saturday's event. It's up to NIU, whose last sellout came in 2004, to spur a culture change among its fans.
“People are just used to being able to walk up and buy a ticket,” Binegar said. “Until you sell out another game and create that demand, in their mind they're thinking, 'Oh, I'll just come over and buy a ticket.'”
To achieve that elusive sellout, Binegar and athletic director Jeff Compher unveiled a few new incentives to help drive advanced ticket sales, including a season ticket plan that costs $50 and gives fans a $50 voucher for parking or concessions. NIU will also offer fans who buy premium season tickets, priced $88 to $100, free tickets to their choice of the MAC Championship game or a bowl game.
NIU has only five home games, and Compher thinks the fact that NIU has no back-to-back weeks with home games will help.
“We look at that as a big advantage,” Compher said. “When we have back-to-back Saturday's, sometimes there's a drop-off on the second Saturday.”
Binegar and Compher said on Saturday that they're looking at the two midweek ESPN games late in the season as a positive. While midweek games are difficult for fans traveling from long distances, Binegar said the Huskies average about 1,000 more students at those games.
The second midweek game against Western Michigan comes two days before Thanksgiving, when students will be in town. Theoretically, NIU should have many more students in attendance than they would for a game that Friday or Saturday, when students would be on vacation.
“Our students like [the midweek games] and that's really what's important,” Binegar said. “I think our students work on weekends, and on the weekdays, they're off.”
The Huskies have already seen an increase in donations after last year's success – Binegar announced that all but $50,000 of the $9.5 million needed for NIU's new indoor practice facility has been raised, and much of that flooded in late last season.
Now, they'll look to see if that excitement translates to Sept. 21, when the Huskies host Eastern Illinois for their home opener..
“It's our goal that first game to sell that game out,” Compher said. “We want to create that atmosphere that first game and hope it carries over for the rest of the season.”